American Cinematheque will present “Animated Treasures: 30 Years of Studio Ghibli” at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, and the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica, from Aug. 20 to Sept. 2.
Founded in Tokyo in 1985 by animation directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli is one of the most successful and respected animation studios in the world. Cultivating a creative force of talented directors, animators and storytellers under the leadership of Miyazaki and Takahata, Studio Ghibli makes films that are praised for their originality, dazzling visuals and epic storytelling. The films have become a beloved part of Japanese popular culture and garnered worldwide acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
This series features the two most recent films from Ghibli’s founders: Miyazaki’s look at a World War II aircraft designer, “The Wind Rises,” and Takahata’s coming-of-age story “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.”
Old favorites will also be revisited, among them Miyazaki’s “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and “My Neighbor Totoro” and Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Pom Poko” and “My Neighbors the Yamadas.”
As brilliant as its leaders are, Studio Ghibli has developed a deep filmmaking bench over the past three decades, including such directors as Yoshifumi Kondo (“Whisper of the Heart”) and Hiroyuki Morita (“The Cat Returns”).And such recent films as “Tales from Earthsea” and “From Up on Poppy Hill” (both directed by Miyazaki’s son Gorō Miyazaki) and Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s dreamlike family drama “When Marnie Was There” ensure that the Studio Ghibli legacy is in good hands.
Series also includes “Porco Rosso,” “Castle in the Sky,” “Ponyo,” “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and “Only Yesterday.”
Most films are presented in original Japanese with English subtitles, except for two family matinees of English-dubbed versions.
The schedule is as follows. For more information, visit http://americancinemathequecalendar.com.
“When Marnie Was There” and “Whisper of the Heart” on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian.
In “When Marnie Was There,” 12-year-old Anna (Sara Takatsuki) spends the summer in a small seaside town, where she discovers an abandoned mansion. She later meets one of the house’s previous inhabitants, a blond girl named Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) — whose connection to Anna is deeper than it first appears. Ghibli’s usual visual splendor and a fine score by Takatsugu Muramatsu add a touch of mystery to this reflective drama about family and memory.
In the mid-1990s, Miyazaki wanted to begin mentoring a new generation of animation artists. The result was “Whisper of the Heart,” a gentle coming-of-age drama scripted, produced and storyboarded by Miyazaki and then directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, whom Miyazaki hoped would introduce new blood into his Studio Ghibli. Adapted from the manga by Aoi Hiragi, the film tells the story of Shizuku, a shy student with high school entrance exam worries and inchoate aspirations, who meets a magical cat on a commuter bus and follows it to a boutique where significant objects abound, each with a story of its own. The story of a young girl finding her voice both literally and figuratively, “Whisper of the Heart” is a film tinged by tragedy: Kondo died of a brain aneurysm in 1998. His only feature attests to his talent, and Miyazaki has yet to find an equally gifted protégé.
“My Neighbor Totoro” and “The Cat Returns” on Friday, Aug. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian.
The third Studio Ghibli feature, Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” tells the story of young sisters Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe, who move with their father into a new house near a vast forest, in order to be closer to their ailing, hospitalized mother. Discovering wondrous forest spirits, they also encounter Totoro, a giant, lumbering, bunny-esque creature. “Here is a children’s film made for the world we should live in, rather than the one we occupy,” said film critic Roger Ebert. “A film with no villains. No fight scenes. No evil adults. No fighting between the two kids. No scary monsters. No darkness before the dawn. A world that is benign. A world where, if you meet a strange towering creature in the forest, you curl up on its tummy and have a nap.”
In “The Cat Returns,” a sequel to “Whisper of the Heart,” quiet suburban schoolgirl Haru is pitched into a fantastical feline world and must find her inner strength to make her way back home. Walking home from school, Haru eyes a cat with a small gift box in its mouth. Attempting to cross a busy street, the cat fumbles the package in the middle of the road as a truck is rapidly bearing down. Haru manages to scoop the cat away to safety. To her amazement, the cat then gets up on its hind legs, brushes itself off and thanks her very politely. Strange behavior indeed, but this is nothing compared to what happens later that evening when the King of Cats shows up in a feline motorcade replete with vassals, maidens, and even Secret Service cats. In a show of gratitude for saving his son’s life, the king cat showers Haru with gifts and decrees that she shall marry the cat prince and come to live as a princess in the secret Kingdom of Cats.
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” and “Princess Mononoke” on Saturday, Aug. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian.
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” which may be the final film from Studio Ghibli co-founder Takahata, is one of the studio’s best. A bamboo cutter discovers a tiny girl in a bamboo shoot and adopts her as his daughter, but the old man’s attempts to raise her as a princess are at odds with the girl’s homespun nature. This beautiful fantasy, based on a Japanese folktale, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.
“Princess Mononoke,” Miyazaki’s epic story of conflict and balance between humans, gods, and nature, has been universally acclaimed by critics and broke the box office record on its original release in Japan. While defending his village from a demonic boar-god, the young warrior Ashitaka becomes afflicted with a deadly curse that grants him superhuman power in battle but will eventually take his life. Traveling west to find a cure and meet his destiny, he journeys deep into sacred depths of the Great Forest, where he meets San (Princess Mononoke), a girl raised by wolf-gods. Mononoke is a force of nature, riding bareback on a great white wolf, and terrorizing the human outpost of Iron Town on the edge of the forest.
“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and “Tales from Earthsea” on Sunday, Aug. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian.
“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,” the first of many triumphs for Miyazaki, is set a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust has gutted the globe. After the death of her father and an attack from the hostile Tormekia, Princess Nausicaa must use her uncanny ability to communicate with the giant crustacean Ohmu to unite her people against the threat of annihilation. Based on the manga of the same name, and using Miyazaki’s distinct stylistic flare for the dreamlike and fantastical, the film also inaugurates Miyazaki’s enduring collaboration and friendship with composer Joe Hisaishi.
Science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Earthsea” series inspired “Tales from Earthsea,” the directorial debut of Gorō Miyazaki. Dragons battling in the skies are a sign that life has fallen out of balance; to restore it, troubled prince Arren and wizard Sparrowhawk must defeat the evil Lord Cob.
“Pom Poko” and “My Neighbors the Yamadas” on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. at the Egyptian.
In “Pom Poko,” an often overlooked Studio Ghibli masterpiece, the forests are filled with groups of magical tanuki, mischievous raccoon-like animals from Japanese folklore that are capable of shape-shifting to practically any object. The tanuki spend their days playing idly in the hillsides and squabbling over food — until the construction of a huge new Tokyo suburb clears the nearby forest and threatens their way of life. In an effort to defend their home, the tanuki learn to transform into humans and start playing tricks to make the workers think the construction site is haunted, ending in a spectacular night-time spirit parade, with thousands of ghosts, dragons and other magical creatures descending on the city — in an abundance of fantastical characters that would not be matched on screen by Studio Ghibli until “Spirited Away.”
In “My Neighbors the Yamadas,” which marks a break from the frequently mythical storytelling of Studio Ghibli, director Takahata wryly tweaks the everyday activities of family life with his depiction of the irresponsible, slovenly, and lazy Yamada family and their unassuming way of life. With cartoonlike characters and visual design unlike anything else in the Ghibli canon, the film is illustrated in a series of rough sketches and outlines, which are then filled with soft colors that evoke watercolor painting.
“When Marnie Was There” and “Only Yesterday” on Thursday Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero.
Realizing that she is at a crossroads in her life, bored twenty-something Taeko heads for the countryside. The trip dredges up forgotten childhood memories that unfold in flashback to younger years: the first immature stirrings of romance, the onset of puberty, the frustrations of math and boys. In lyrical switches between the present and the past, Taeko wonders if she has been true to the dreams of her childhood self. Directed by Takahata and produced by Miyazaki, “Only Yesterday” is a double period piece that beautifully evokes both the 1960s and the 1980s, and the quintessential drama of Japanese school-day nostalgia. Studio Ghibli is known for its female heroines, but with “Only Yesterday” it delves deeper into the real emotional experiences of girls/women than perhaps any animated film before or since. Not available in any North American home viewing formats.
(See description of “When Marnie Was There” above)
“Spirited Away” and “Ponyo” on Friday, Aug. 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero.
“Spirited Away,” Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning masterpiece, was the biggest box office hit of all time in Japan and a film that helped redefine the possibilities of animation for American audiences and a generation of new filmmakers. Wandering through an abandoned carnival site, 10-year-old Chichiro is separated from her parents and stumbles into a dreamlike spirit world, where she is put to work in a bathhouse for the gods, a place where all kinds of nonhuman beings come to refresh, relax and recharge. Here she encounters a vast menagerie of impossibly inventive characters — shape-shifting phantoms and spirits, some friendly, some less so — and must find the inner strength to outsmart her captors and return to her family. Combining Japanese mythology with “Through the Looking Glass”-type whimsy, “Spirited Away” cemented Miyazaki’s reputation as an icon of inspired animation and wondrous, lyrical storytelling.
“Ponyo” is a heart-warming love story whose intricate, hand-drawn animation will dazzle the eyes. Miyazaki’s eighth film for Studio Ghibli was loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Ponyo is a goldfish living happily with her wizard father and sea-goddess mother until wanderlust brings her to a little fishing village, where she is rescued by Sosuke. Smitten by the boy, Ponyo becomes human with some of her dad’s sorcery, but using those powers throws the whole world out of balance. Will Ponyo choose to live in the world of people or of magic?
“Kiki’s Delivery Service” on Saturday, Aug. 29, at 3 p.m. at the Aero.
A resourceful young witch who uses her broom to create a delivery service, only to lose her gift of flight in a moment of self-doubt. It is tradition for all young witches to leave their families on the night of a full moon and set out into the wide world to learn their craft. When that night comes for Kiki, she embarks on her life journey with her chatty black cat, Jiji, landing the next morning in a seaside village, where a bakery owner hires her to make deliveries. Rarely has the animator’s art been so brilliantly rendered as in this delightfully imaginative film — a beautiful and timeless story of a young girl finding her way in the world.
“Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Castle in the Sky” on Saturday, Aug. 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero.
In “Howl’s Moving Castle,” Sophie, an average teenage girl working in a hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome but mysterious wizard. After this chance meeting, the young girl is turned into a 90-year-old woman by the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste. Embarking on an incredible adventure to lift the curse, she finds refuge in Howl’s magical moving castle. As the true power of Howl’s wizardry is revealed, and his relationship with Sophie deepens, our young gray heroine finds herself fighting to protect them both from a dangerous war of sorcery that threatens their world. This was the second Studio Ghibli film to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.
“Castle in the Sky” is one of Miyazaki’s most stunningly beautiful, exciting, and infrequently screened films. A young girl with a mysterious crystal pendant falls out of the sky and into the arms and life of young Pazu. Together they search for a floating island in the sky, site of a long-dead civilization promising enormous wealth and power to those who can unlock its secrets. This is an early masterpiece of storytelling and filmmaking whose imaginative and ornately detailed vision presaged later films like “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away.”
“My Neighbor Totoro” on Sunday, Aug. 30, at 3 p.m. at the Aero.
(See description above)
“Porco Rosso” and “The Wind Rises” on Sunday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero.
“Porco Rosso,” an unsung treasure from Miyazaki, nestles a tale of morality and identity inside a soaring tribute to early aviation and the reckless flyboys whose home was the open sky. Set in a mid-World War II Italy swept by fascism, the film follows Marco, a world-weary flying ace turned bounty hunter who plies his trade above the waters of the Adriatic. Somewhere along the way a curse has transformed Marco’s head into that of a pig, reflecting his loss of faith in humanity. Marco meets his polar opposite in the innocent and energetic 17-year-old Fio, an aspiring airplane designer, and the two are catapulted into an airborne adventure pursued by air pirates, the Italian army and an egotistical American flying ace.
“The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki’s final feature film, is a typically glorious animated affair, a celebration of art, science, and the impulse to create. Based on Miyazaki’s own manga, it tells the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of two famous aircraft used by Japan during World War II. The film has won dozens of critics’ and film festival awards, and is a fitting finale to a triumphant career.
“Grave of the Fireflies” and “From Up on Poppy Hill” on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero.
“Grave of the Fireflies,” a stark drama adapted from Nosaka Akiyuki’s semi-autobiographical novel, is one of Studio Ghibli’s greatest achievements. Left to fend for themselves after their home is firebombed during the closing days of World War II, teen Seita and his 5-year-old sister Setsuko struggle to survive.
Richly evocative of time and place — and the optimism of Japan in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics — “From Up on Poppy Hill” was written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by Goro Miyazaki, the first feature film collaboration between father and son. In Yokohama in 1963, high school kids Umi and Shun work together to save a dilapidated Meiji-era clubhouse from demolition. But as their tentative romance begins to blossom, a buried secret from their past emerges to pull them apart. The English version boasts a star-filled voice cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Christina Hendricks, Ron Howard and Anton Yelchin. Recommended for ages 9 and up.